Rachel Arkle is a consultant and researcher on wellbeing. Her mission is to share her wellbeing formula to those around her via the MyWellbeingFix project. Our first speaker at our very first Bristol event, she asked how technology can improve happiness. Read more on her blog.

300 Seconds Bristol - Rachel Arkle

Rachel spoke from three perspectives – as a consultant, a researcher, and (in her words) as ‘human crash test dummy’, having survived a nasty bicycle crash.

Happiness, she explained, has two aspects – hedonic (instant pleasure) and eudaemonic (the underlying feeling that we have value). So happiness is often summarised as wellbeing, which in turn has seven key elements.

Rachel then looked at each of these seven in turn, asking if technology has a positive or negative impact on that element of wellbeing.

  1. Physical health: researchers at the Institute of Galway found that apps such as MapMyRun make us walk more. However, a larger study in the US found that sites such as MyPlate encourage more negative behaviours, particularly among the vulnerable
  2. Mental and emotional health: Rachel talked about apps that encourage healthy behaviours such as meditation, which she does regularly to help her deal with the after-effects of her crash
  3. Relationships: Technology is no match for real physical contact, which helps us produce ‘happy hormone’ oxytocin
  4. Networks and community: Technology has a great positive impact here. Rachel talked about how the supportive comments she got on Facebook after her accident made her happy. Our online networks open up opportunities for happiness, too; she gave the example of LinkedIn, which helps us to find the jobs that make us happy
  5. Action: Can technology make us more or less able to do the things we want to in our lives? Rachel gave an emphatic yes, giving the example of project management tools that help us to get things done
  6. Financial health: 82% of us use applications such as Lloyds Money Manager help us to get a grip on our personal finances, which helps us to feel more stable
  7. Meaning and purpose: Technology is a big distraction, preventing us from hearing our inner voice

Taken as a whole, Rachel summarised, wellbeing is positively impacted by technology. But to close, she asked the audience to close their eyes and think of the last time they were happy. Then put their hand up if it had anything to do with technology. Just two people put their hands up. It takes more than technology to make us happy.

Picture credit: David Pearson